Thursday, 20 June 2019

I’ll reduce homes target, says new council leader

THE new leader of South Oxfordshire District Council says the number of homes proposed in a housing blueprint should be reduced.

Liberal Democrat Sue Cooper, who represents the Benson and Crowmarsh ward, was elected leader at a meeting last week after her party formed a coalition with the Green Party.

She says one of her priorities is to “improve” the council’s Local Plan, which was approved by the previous Conservative administration and earmarks sites for 28,000 new homes for the period until 2034.

Councillor Cooper, who lives in Ewelme, wouldn’t reveal how much of a reduction she wants to see but she has previously branded the number in the document “excessive”.

Cllr Cooper said: “I don’t know what we’re going to do about it at this stage because we’re information gathering.

“We have actually got a lot of planning permissions in place already but the houses haven’t been built while on the outline agreements for big sites we’re waiting for reserved matters.

“We want to take more notice of the fact that we have this climate change crisis... and make all our new properties much more energy efficient and able to generate their own energy.

“We want the houses to be built to zero carbon standards. It will make it much cheaper for people to run their houses.

“Any new development that has car parking spaces we’d want electric charging points available.”

Cllr Cooper said she also wanted to improve the financial position of the council, saying the Conservatives had run down its reserves.

“It’s partly their fault and partly central government’s,” she said. “It has reduced the government grant which we used to get. District councils around here are getting virtually nothing. The Government were also paying what’s called a ‘new homes bonus’. It has given notice that this scheme possibly isn’t going to continue.”

Interest on the council’s reserves funds its grants system but Cllr Cooper said: “The grants budget has gone from £1 million to £850,000 last year and this year it’s down to £500,000.

“We’re looking at all the possibilities. Maybe we ought to raise more money locally and we’re looking at various things on that — I’m not in a position to detail anything at this stage.”

She said she was “keeping an eye” on the larger planning applications in her ward to ensure developers were providing all the community facilities that would be needed.

It is not the first time the Lib-Dems have run the council, having run it in coalition with Labour from 1995 to 2003.

Cllr Cooper, who previously represented the old Benson and Ewelme Ward from 1991 to 2011, said: “I’m very pleased and very humbled by the trust they are putting in me and my work and I’ll try to deliver for them.

“I think everybody expected a strong swing in our direction but I think the officers and most councillors thought it would probably be the Tories returning with a much smaller majority. Here the Local Plan played a very big part but also the national feeling as well.

“I want to give all councillors the chance to hear about the issues, the things we have got to take into consideration and put forward sensible suggestions. Depending on what they are, their feasibility and cost, I’ll listen to sensible suggestions.

“Councillors are basically there because they want to do something useful and sensible for their district and the colour of the bow around your neck shouldn’t dictate everything that happens.

“That was one of the most exasperating things about the last council. We were very much in the dark until full council when it was too late to put anything else forward.”

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